[Tallahassee, Florida] – A pilot program helping youth in the child welfare system get driver’s licenses, was expanded and became permanent today with the passage of SB 60 and HB 217. Known as the “Keys to Independence Act,” the program assists youth with getting a learner’s permit or driver’s license, helps find driver education courses and insurance and offers financial assistance. The program has served over 1,200 youth, and quadrupled the number of children with licenses, prompting Senator Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina) and Representative Jennifer Sullivan (R-Eustis) to file legislation to make it permanent and enhance it.
“Logyn Robinson, a Bradenton high school senior who lives in a foster care boy’s group home said “It’s a relief to know there is help for youth in state care to get their permit or license. Being able to drive, and learning how to do so safely for that matter is a life-changing experience in itself!”
Senator Bean said the bill was necessary to empower youth to succeed as adults: “We heard so much great testimony from foster youth working on their education, trying to find jobs, starting a life for themselves, often while leaving abusive or neglectful circumstances behind them. As the people responsible for constructing the child welfare system, we should give these youth the tools to lead successful, independent lives as young adults.” Representative Sullivan agreed, “Being able to drive is so important to being self-sufficient. There are many places in Florida where you can’t get a job if you don’t have a license, or you’re limited in where you can go to school because there is no mass transportation. Kids from the child welfare system shouldn’t have to start adulthood at a disadvantage.”
Florida has been a national leader in providing normalcy to youth in the child welfare system, and Keys to Independence is an example of those efforts. Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll said, “Getting a driver’s license is a normal thing for teens to do, and it’s important for youth in the child welfare system to have as normal of an experience as possible. In addition to that, with a driver’s license, they will be safer, they will have better opportunities to go to school, where they want to go, to get jobs they want, and to start their adult lives on their terms. We owe them that opportunity.”
In addition to making the pilot permanent, SB 60 will expand eligibility for the program and enable youth whose placements change a grace period to complete the program. Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, was especially pleased that the program could be expanded within its existing resources. “As GALs, we represent the child’s best interest, and I thought to myself, what could be better than giving kids in the system some of the things we all want for our own kids: the ability to learn, a bit of a cushion as they get started, and ultimately to be independent. The Keys program does that, and it should be available to as many teens as possible.”